Author : Desmond Hussey, featured writer
The cavernous chamber of the Galaxy Arcade is filled with phantasmagorical colors, super-nova bright and a deafening riot of beeps, blips and core shuddering rumbles. Most of the games – “6th Dimension”, “Quantum Exchange”, “The Abyss” – are tended by dedicated players striving to beat high scores, but most players hover around the new game; the onlookers oohing and ahhing occasionally. Curious, I insinuate myself into the crowd for a better view.
Garish neon lettering advertises the game’s name – “Incarnation”. Its interfacing is unique from other games, which are mostly fully immersive holographic environments, or 3-D table-top varieties. “Incarnation” requires the player to crawl inside a clear, crystalline egg, open on one side, with a contoured platform to lie on within. There are no obvious controls, no buttons, no joystick and, oddly, no score board.
The current player is seemingly asleep on the platform; limbs idle while a chaotic stream of expressions flows across their face with uncanny speed. The rapid chain of emotions makes them look deranged, but eventually their countenance grows placid and calm. They look older, somehow. A moment later they open their eyes and smile.
“Amazing,” the player says, climbing out of the orb to stand amid the throng of spectators. Already a new player is crawling inside. I watch as this player succumbs to whatever unseen power the game has, sinking into a twitching oblivion.
I edge myself closer to the player who has just emerged. “What was it like?” I ask.
They look at me, a strange feminine glow fading from their typically androgynous eyes. “I – I don’t know how to describe it. So strange. So wonderfully strange,” is all they say before wandering off to be alone with alien memories.
The new player doesn’t last very long. Almost immediately, painful looking convulsions wrack their face, twisting it into contortions of fear, desperation, then agonizing pain. A moment later it’s over. The player clutches the edge of the platform, eyes glazed with an ecstasy of emotion. “What a rush!”
“What happened?” I ask.
“I was eaten by a saber-toothed lion.” The crowd “oohs”.
“What was your score?”
The player looks at me like I’m an idiot. “I was eaten,” is all they say, as if that’s answer enough.
I patiently wait my turn, watching player after player emerge from the game somehow altered by their experience. When my time finally comes, I step forward, insert my Quark into the awaiting slot and climb in. The platform adjusts automatically to my form. I lay back, close my eyes and wait.
I’m moving down a dark, warm tunnel, a pinpoint of ruddy light my destination. Suddenly, a cold, harsh glare crashes in, blinding me. I’m shivering. I’m crying. I taste blood.
So, this is what it’s like to be born! To be flesh and blood.
To don the shackles of mortality.
When it’s over, I exit the machine filled with the thoughts and feelings of a Golden Retriever named Sparky. I didn’t win. I didn’t lose. I had simply lived.
Another player asks me, “What’s it all for? What does it mean?”
“Only one way to find out,” I reply, walking away, striving to retain every moment of my experience. I will return to the Galaxy Arcade. I will play “Incarnation” again. A new life. A new perspective.
But for now, I wrap myself in the ephemeral memories of my first life, plucking esoteric treasures from the seemingly mundane drudgery of a single glorious existence – keeping score.
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